In 1944, the demand for SS staff was higher than ever, as the SS needed guards for all its new satellite camps. There were more than 22,000 SS staff in April 1944, and numbers more than doubled before the end of the year. Most new recruits came from the military and served as sentries. Many were older reservists: some prisoners called them “grandpas”. One of them was 56-year-old Hugo Behncke, who was called up in summer 1944. Behncke’s letters to his wife show that he was far from enthusiastic about his posting to a Neuengamme satellite camp. But they also reveal that he barely regarded the inmates as human beings.

027 – Letter by guard Hugo Behncke to his wife, 28 January 1945

Today I’m on duty from 10 to 12, though without anyone relieving me and without the NCO [non-commissioned officer], so I’ll be able to cut a few corners. I can sit down and that makes the work fairly easy, so two hours are bearable. In the SS, everything apart from breathing is forbidden, but if you don’t break a few rules you’re not a soldier. But I always take care that nothing happens. Anyway, in the winter time the prisoners are disinclined to “travel” [escape]. I haven’t heard of a single case all the time I’ve been here. But in spring and summer we have to keep a really close eye on things.

All they were good for was to be burned

There’s no table to write on and so my writing looks funny. Last night I slept in the next room. It was really cold in there. There has never been any heating in there. I have the space to myself because the others prefer to stay in the warm fug, but I moved out in particular because my neighbour in the bed above me has lice! Yes, lice! I’m not keen on those. I had enough of them in the First World War. He probably got them from being on the recent transport of prisoners to Neuengamme. The prisoners were all sick, dirty and thin as skeletons. All they were good for was to be burned in the Neuengamme crematorium. And a lot of them thought they were being brought to Neuengamme to be burned. Of course, many of them are stupid, primitive people. […]

The war situation is still gloomy, of course, but I’m putting my trust all the same in our counter attack after our enemies’ latest offensive. As I see it, everything is ready. […] So we’re hoping we’ll have victory soon, first over the Russians and then over the western powers. After we’ve won my comrades want to carry on […] as soldiers but not me! I want to get home to you and my children.

Source: KZ-Gedenkstätte Neuengamme, Ng. 7.6

Translation: Lesley Sharpe and Jeremy Noakes